12-Apr-2005 (Tue)
Wherein TVs are whined about.

There is still a godawful stench left over from the wrestling event. Maybe it's rotting chocolate, or maybe one of the performers decided to puke in some out-of-the-way corner of the back room that we have not yet discovered. The smell seems to have made its home in the sewer under the stage, mostly. Various staff have so far put in literally dozens of hours trying to make this smell go away. It's tenacious.

We had a plumber in the other day, trying to clear a clog in one of the urinals that we couldn't fix on our own. (Yes, a clogged urinal. How? Our customers are fucking savages, that's how.) So the plumber says, "We're going to have to bust into this wall here, they didn't put in a clean-out port for this drain!" I walk by, point, "Is that it?" He says, "Oh. Yeah."

All plumbers are like that. All of them. Also, they eat their young.


You know those TVs we have? Yeah, you've probably never noticed them. They're turning out to be such a disappointment.

Those of you who have been following along from the beginning may remember that we've got this little private cable-TV network inside the club that distributes the video from the various webcast cameras around to a bunch of televisions around the club, each TV showing a random picture from a different camera. The original plan was to have a whole lot of these TVs all over the place. What we ended up with was four stacks of them: under the main stairs; above the couches in the lounge; in the coat-check counter; and behind the fence in the main entrance.

Except these days, they're mostly dark.

Here's the problem: we thought, "oh, we'll just get a bunch of old TVs, people throw them away all the time." Well, turns out, those old TVs are being thrown away for a reason, which is usually that they no longer display a picture. Not that a noisy picture is a bad thing: some TVs are really cool looking with analog noise, or a missing color channel, or a rolling picture. But most of the TVs we ended up with weren't like that; they were more of the "no picture, just static" variety.

But, we can't even solve this problem by throwing money at it and buying new TVs. Apparently we are suffering under the iron fist of "EnergyStar" legislation: most TVs manufactured within the last decade or so can't be turned on from a power strip! Really old TVs (the kind with knobs for changing the channel) had hard switches and would come back on when you re-applied wall power. But most modern TVs have "soft" power switches, and after you flip on the power strip, you have to also press the button on the front. And even worse, a lot of them re-set to channel 2 when you pull the plug. We have a lot of these new-ish TVs these days, since that's what people are discarding now. The really old ones are all gone already.

So, for a while, the floor staff would go around and poke each TV at the beginning of the night to turn them on, and occasionally tweak the tuners to make the signal come in. But that hasn't been happening on any kind of regular basis for a while now, and almost all of them are just dark and disappointing. (To me. I assume nobody else knows they're there at all.) Bleh.

39 Responses:

  1. mark242 says:

    Crappy VGA monitors? You could probably procure a few of those at your local computer waste dump.

    • jwz says:

      Yeah, everybody hears "TVs" and wants to give us their crappy monitors. Show me how to get a monitor to display UHF channel 16 and it might be something other than "useless and heavy."

      • valentwine says:

        Look for a pallet of old Amdek composite monitors. Those things take straight RCA composite in and you can even permanently tweak all of the colors, vertical hold, etc using knobs on the front if you want wacked out pictures.

        Buy yourself a cheap tuner for each pile of them, something like this, and hooch up a composite RCA video splitter from its output to all of the composite inputs on the monitors. You might even be able to find old analog CATV tuners cheap/free in a shop somewhere.

        In fact, there's another idea for dealing with your TVs that lose their shit when you cut the power. If you can find those crappy old analog CATV tuners, the kind in a brown box with a linear dial on top and a slide switch, you can permanently tune in your CATV channel and then get Channel 2 or 3 or something out the backside. You've still gotta have someone turn the soft switched ones on, but at least they can come back to the default channel.

  2. ajaxxx says:

    you could at least address the power problem, though you'd still have to figure a way to get something unique on each channel 3.

    • geektalk says:

      It's not quite that simple. I have a TV-B-Gone, and it's cool, but I'm not convinced it would work that well for a bank of TVs. The main thing is that a lot of TVs seem to have similar power codes, such that if you just hit the button and wait, it'll turn on ...... then off. I've even seen some do on, off, on. So, some TVs would be compatible with that system, and some wouldn't. (It's easily solved with just one TV because you can just stash it in your pocket as soon as the TV turns off.)

      It's too bad. The random TV views of the club seems like a really cool idea.

  3. I know there is Palm software to control TVs, get it to walk through the set up sequence for the all the TVs? Not perfect, but better than doing it by hand.

  4. guyver3 says:

    sucks about the tvs. I remember the big pile of 'em on the floor in the webcam during construction. the closed-circut system always sounded good too.

  5. eqe says:

    Well, for what it's worth, I notice the TVs and even use them to see other parts of the club now and then. However, I have no good solutions to your problems.

    Maybe you just need to hire an intern.

  6. remaker says:

    Some of the newer soft-off TVs can be programmed to

    - Turn on and off at a specified time, and to a channel
    - Remember last state after poweroff
    - Remember of for a long time after lost power

    But you have to dig for these features. These are not "Marketed" features.

    UHF channel 16? That seems random. Or can you send a composite video feed instead (I guess it is just coax, huh?)

    Ironically, since Energy Star TVs consume energy when off, this start-off-by-default unfeature requires those who would pull the plug to leave it plugged in, consuming MORE energy than if they had just left it the hell alone.

    Another "improvement."

    If you want to put those old VGA tubes to use, there are a wad of devices like the AVERTV BOX that will pump a TV signal into a VGA monitor, but they all seem to suck in some way based on the reviews. They typically run about $50-$150, cheaper than a new sucky TV.

    Froogle for "external vga tuner -pci -agp -usb"

    Or don't.

    • remaker says:

      Looks like the LJ *preview* doesn't care about mixed-case html tags, but LJ proper barfs on them. Sorry. I'd fix it if I could, but I can't seem to retract a comment. The error was not evident until I commited the post.

      Sigh. LART me, I suck.

    • jwz says:

      The RF modulators I have can only output to UHF channels 14-78, not VHF.

      Yes, spending $150 to make a VGA monitor work as well as a $30 TV is contraindicated.

  7. man, i love the TVs. i contributed two or three of them, and they really, really make the atmosphere of the club.

    perhaps you could centralize the energy star TVs in a reasonably accessible place and get the early monkeys to turn them on? it's gotta be a 30 second time commitment for five TVs piled in one corner; i think it's worth it.

  8. ding_0_ says:

    I like the idea and the aestetics of the sets a lot. I will personaly go around and turn on all the tv's if the band I'm in gets a chance to play DNA. (We are from the east cost, though we will be at convergance this year. [getting closer]). Then I will post on LJ about turning on the TV's and make sure that the east coast shutin geek friends stay up to watch the webcast. YEAH! ROK AND ROLL! WHOO!

  9. nester says:

    Yeah, that does suck.

    The only decent solution I could come up with would be an IR repeater at each of the banks of TV's.

    Of course, having 15 different brands of TV's makes that not very easy either...

    Nevermind! ;)

  10. cabrius says:

    Complement them with crappy old VCRs or cable boxes acting as their tuners? Would take a bit more space though, and still doesn't solve the power problem...

  11. krick says:

    First, I would crack open the cases and hard wire them so they are always on. that solves your power strip problem.

    Then I'd try to find a way to bypass the tuner circuitry and feed your video signal directly to the tube.

    you might find some help in the MAME cabinet community.
    http://forum.arcadecontrols.com/

    There's a lot of people using televisions in arcade cabinets.

    Also, arcade monitors are remarkably similar to televisions except they don't have tuners, so you might be able to find pre made hardware to do what you need.

    ...OR...

    You could just visit a LOT of tv repair shops and buy up all their old non cable-ready tv sets. I'm sure they don't want them anyway.

    • jwz says:

      I knew someone was going to suggest that, in complete disregard to practicality. Let's see, two dozen TVs, times $40/each worth of television, times 100 hours of reverse-engineering, soldering, and electrocution... yeah, I'll get right on that.

      We did try wedging a few of the soft-touch power buttons in the down position, hoping that would make them come on when powered up. It does not.

      "Bypass the tuner circuitry" means "two dozen runs of baseband video from the head-end, instead of a single CATV loop." That means installing well over a mile of additional video cable. Yeah, I'll get right on that too.

      • krick says:

        I know it's not practical. I wrote it to contrast the second option after the ...OR...

        I think picking up more older used TVs is probably your only real option.

        It's probably a win-win situation when you think about it. The type of TVs you really need are exactly the kind that people can not really use anymore with modern cable systems. There should be millions of otherwise usable TVS out there on their way to the landfill soon.

        Talk to your local pawn shops and TV repair places. Offer to buy any used TVs that meet your specs for some amount of money that you can live with.

        Or put an ad in the paper offering to take old working TVs off people's hands.

        Hell, if you just handed out "TVs Wanted" flyers to people that frequent the club, you're probably hitting a lot of people.

      • ausfish says:

        lirc + cron = kernel recompiling fun = TV remote controlling

        lirc can send and receive TV signals. however, this solution also requires a soldering iron (intern time?), and I know nothing of it's success rate. (I personally have used it to receive signals, and have enough confidence in their ability to at least recommend that you spend five seconds laughing at this idea.)

        I come from the land down under, and it seems that some TV's operate in the way you describe, some always turn on after a blackout and others remember their state.

        Of course you could always hit the yellow pages and find a shop that specialises in TV distribution systems or something similarly non-mainstream (i.e. not a specialist box shifter), and make sure that the cheque book is sufficiently charged. Commercial monitors start at about $600.

        So, essentially my solution is "make it somebody else's problem". You are, after all, the manager, right?

  12. ammonoid says:

    I like the TVs, so I hope you find a way to keep them going. Of course, I don't have the time to volunteer to come around and turn them on every night, either. I think its cool you can hang out on the bench upstairs and watch whats going on in the rest of the club.

  13. kyronfive says:

    I've taken numerous band pictures via the TV display, and they're all cool. Thus, i am depressed.

  14. ashiant says:

    Having had worked a little with video surveilance, the TVs that are used in surveilance are often a hard physical switch that stays toggled regardless of the power supplied.

    Unfortunate downsides:
    Expensive for initial purchase
    Video is often supplied via BNC connectors in 'composite' format..

    I dunno, maybe you can try to hook up with whatever major 'security system' vendor (eg: ADT in CT) exists out west and try to acquire a pallet or two of 'surplus' screens. You might even get away with it for 'Yes, take this! you're willing to dispose of these for free?' if you supply the truck and pallet jack...

  15. hafnir says:

    Well for the record, watching Needle Sharing performing (i.e. dancing around like a true madman behind a laptop) downstairs from a TV upstairs without the sound was definitely one of the funniest things ever there. :)

  16. exiledbear says:

    All you need is something that has an IR diode on it, and can be remotely controlled, right?

    Buy a bunch of el-cheapo obsolete Palm III's on Ebay. Write something that turns them into a serial console that accepts two commands - emit signal to turn TV on, emit signal to turn TV off. Now all you need is one of those console servers with an ethernet interface, and you can telnet to the console server, and boot the TVs remotely via the Palm that's taped to the IR receiver in front of the TV.

    I did a quick check on ebay, and PalmIIIe's sell for about $20? You'd need to wire up some sort of power source for them, but that's an easy job with a soldering iron and one of those multivoltage DC transformers.

    The hard part is writing Palm app, but I imagine that's well within your skill level.

  17. technotronic says:

    I would imagine (and hope) that there are some programmable remote controls out there that can be taught to playback a sequence of codes. I think the (radio hack) cheapo JP1 (http://www.hifi-remote.com/forums/) remotes can be taught a few macros. Maybe you buy one of those cheapo remotes for each set of tv's or, if the macro can be large enough, one for the entire place.

  18. I have the same problem with a 5" $80 lcd tv that I hooked up to my apartment building's cctv. Now I either need to find a cheap tuner to stick in the wiring closet or toggle the channel button a few times to see who's at the door.

    There is a relatively cheap serial port controllable ir emitter. I don't know how long these can be made though.

  19. valentwine says:

    Dear Rube Goldbergs,

    About the IR transmitter and the hackery, do you set your alarm clock by flushing the toilet?

    Sincerely,
    The Maintenance Staff

  20. kfringe says:

    Whining about technology again? I'll have you using 300B amplifiers yet. The solution is pathetically obvious.

    You need a barely trained monkey.

    That's not a figure of speech. Get yourself a lethargic macaque or an aging, homicidal chimpanzee that likes beer (like a unix admin, but shorter), lock it in the cage by the coat check and trust that its random flailing will eventually trigger the power on at least some of the sets. It may be silly, it may be dirty, it may not even work. Who cares? As a solution to the problem, it's perfect. Think of all the benefits! It would require no technology. It would be entertaining for at least an hour. You could say "I own my own monkey." It would fling its feces at drunks. It would piss off peta people.

    The only downside would be picking the gnome that you would force to clean up the inevitable waste product, but even that doesn't have to be so bad if you're feeling more-than-usually nasty. Well, it would be the only downside besides the whole "doesn't fix the problem" and "giant, illegal, pain in the ass" things. That doesn't leave you far short of where you are now.

    I vote that it's worth the effort. I'm sure that I'm not the only one who wants to read the rant about the the failure modes of chimps caged in a hostile nightclub.

    PS:Look here if you want to put yourself into a new kind of personal hell.

  21. idcmp says:

    Someone suggested lirc, which is a good suggestion. There are also IR transmitters that you can stick on top of the IR receiver plastic on TV's. Provided that the "TV ON" code of one of your TV's is not the "TV OFF" code of another, you could wire them all together and just transmit all the "TV ON" codes. Odds are good too it has a lot of pre-recorded TV ON codes, so in theory, you could just have lirc fire all of them up 1/2 hour ahead of time and then when you switch TVs, it won't matter.

    YMMV. Offer not valid where prohibited by law.

  22. cryocone says:

    The way I see it, JWZ doesn't really expect any kind of resolution to this one. He didn't solicit any 'help'.

    This was just an excuse to complain about how energy policy has butterfly-effect negative implications for nightclubs that no one could possibly foresee.

    You should put signs on your 'dark' TV's to explain how their shortsignedness comes back to bite them in the end.

    • gadlen says:

      I think I might have a solution for you:

      Buy a Philips ProntoNEO (http://www.pronto.philips.com/index.cfm?id=262) for about $180.

      Use a long hollow tube to make the IR transmitter extremely directional. Maybe a paper towel tube will do... it might take a 4' cardboard tube.

      Number each television in the club sequentially. (Other numbering schemes might due as well. Namespace is always an interesting topic). Make sure to put a brightly colored nametag very close to the IR receiver on each TV.

      Go through the club and program the remote with every television in the place, naming each device on the remote control the same as the name of the television.

      So now, when it's time to turn the TV's on, an employee does the following:
      - Identify the name of the TV.
      - Change the remote to that device.
      - Point remote control with directional attenuator at the nametag.
      - Push the "on" button.
      - If the TV had been unplugged, change to channel 16.
      - Go to the next TV.

      --------------------------------------------------
      Potential issues:
      - The ProntoNEO manual (found on their webpage) doesn't indicate how many devices it is capable of. Philips sells higher-end remote controls but they can be very expensive... in the $700-$1500 range. Other high-end remotes might work as well.

      - The ProntoNEO may be time consuming to change the remote control to a different device. The manual implies that it's easy but you never know.

      - When a TV is removed, replaced, or moved from one location to another, some confusion may result with naming.

      - Each television must be turned on individually. This is still time consuming but has the potential to reduce the time spent on each TV by 50-70% depending on TV accessibility.

      Note:
      I tested the idea of making the remote control extremely directional with my own television and was very successful. By forming my fingers into a tube I made a 1" long tube. This very effectively made it so the remote would only control the TV it was pointed at from approximately 5' away.

      This could work.
      Lee
      http://lee.org/blog